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Early Childhood

Early Childhood Care and Education Programmes

At no other time in a person’s life does one learn and develop as fast and intensely as in the early years. The care and attention a child receives in the first eight years of life – particularly during the first three years – are critical and influence the child for life. Learning is not confined to children of a certain age or to a formal school environment. In fact, babies learn rapidly from the moment of their birth. Scientific research shows that the experiences children have early in life—and the environments in which they have them—shape their developing brain architecture and strongly affect whether they grow up to be healthy, productive members of society (You can read relevant research at the Harvard Center for the Developing Child website). Young children grow and learn the most when they receive affection, attention and stimulation in addition to good nutrition and proper health care.  Investments in early child development through supportive care, early learning activities and improved school readiness along with health and nutrition interventions increases the likelihood that boys and girls will complete primary school.

Encouraging children to play and explore helps them learn and develop socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually. The importance of play in cognitive development cannot be overlooked.  Play is central to children's learning, regardless of the actual content. The process of play is a powerful, multifaceted learning experience. Children’s play involves exploration, language experimentation, cognition, and the development of social skills.  
Parents, teachers and caregivers determine the level of development of infants and young children through interaction and play.  Their involvement is crucial for early learning and lays the foundation for future learning in school.  The overarching goal of early learning is to ensure disadvantaged children enter school on time and are cognitively, socially and emotionally ready for school.

UNICEF designs and conducts Early Childhood Education and School Readiness programmes to ensure that children are ready for school and since their early years are being brought up in an environment conducive to learning. UNICEF has partnered with the Child-to-Child Trust to develop Getting Ready for School: A child-to-child approach, which provides supplemental cost-effective and efficient interventions in developing countries that have inadequate formal early learning opportunities. Through this approach, older children are empowered to help younger peers gain linguistic, social and emotional tools for successful learning and to make a smooth transition to school.

The critical issue in programme implementation is quality. To that end, UNICEF has developed Early Learning Development Standards (ELDS), the social policy report on quality, and quality frameworks for two of its regions – Eastern Europe and Eastern and Southern Africa regions.



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